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Thomas J. Miner, MD
Reflections on a winter cleanup
I've been shoveling snow for most of my life. In high school, each storm was eagerly welcomed and came with the potential to fund a modest teenage lifestyle. Promptness, attention to detail, and affability would usually be rewarded by a grateful neighbor. Once, I got a twenty-dollar bill for my work. Decades later, I still remember that patron fondly and maintain a special feeling toward that family and their home.
In my Rhode Island neighborhood, it now costs $65 to have someone plow your driveway (and, if there is a big snowfall, they will come twice adding to the overall cost of that storm.) My family claims that my obsession with this observation reflects an annoying individual quirk and the fact that I am just cheap (probably true.) The fact is, though, when utilizing this service, I had to spend an extra hour after each plow visit cleaning the walkways around my home myself to keep them passable and safe. I recognize the privilege of dwelling on this first-world problem, but this drove me nuts. For years, my solution has been to do snow cleanup myself. With the acknowledged influence of surgical training and practice, I follow each storm carefully and identify the best time to do clean up, prepare the drive by removing newspapers and other debris, use my well-loved equipment (and keep mental note of the cost effectiveness of my snow blower purchase), execute the technical requirements of my procedure, and evaluate my outcomes for areas of self- improvement. Even in the early morning before a full day in the OR, there is something really satisfying about doing the job yourself.
As I started thinking about this essay, I was confronted with cleaning up after another snowfall. This storm will be long forgotten (it really was not that bad.) It was slow and drawn out, leaving 8 inches of snow over about 36 hours during a quiet weekend. I did my usual prep work and started cleanup when the snow stopped. Early into the job the snow blower screeched and spit out hundreds of shards of paper all over my yard. I stopped the machine, flipped it over and discovered a mangled Yellow pages phone book in a clear plastic bag. I pulled it out of the machine and then spent an extra two hours cleaning up the mess. I finished the job wet, cold, tired, and incredulous. Who would deliver the Yellow pages in the middle of a snowstorm? One way or another it would get ruined by snow blowers or pushed into a dense pile of snow by plow trucks. What a thoughtless waste of resources at the expense of my time and effort. The metaphor of this event to a New England Surgeon struck me and aligns with my goals for this column- exploring the awe, joy, appreciation, pride, and sometimes frustration, associated with a surgical career. We take a little Yankee pride in self-reliance, problem solving ability, commitment to excellence, hard work, frugality, service, and dedication to a job well done. But please, do not throw the Yellow pages into an already messy driveway!
This will be my last essay as Editor of the NESS Newsletter as I transition to NESS Secretary. It has been a great privilege that I have enjoyed very much. I look forward to handling over the job and I am excited to hear a new perspective. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.
Thomas J. Miner, MD